“The Concept of Human”:
In Search of Human
In 1942, in his concluding speech at the Yán'ān Forum on Literature and Art, Máo Zédōng set out his definitive statement on human nature: “Is there such a thing as human nature? Of course there is. But there is only human nature in the concrete, no human nature in the abstract. In a class society there is only human nature that bears the stamp of a class; human nature that transcends classes does not exist.”1 His inspiration was a passage from Marx's Theses on Feuerbach: “The human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations.”2 Máo's authoritative interpretation set limits on what could be said about “humanity”: in the strictest possible terms, there was no universal human nature. This, then, was the flip side of the New Democracy. Progressive natural scientists and members of the Chinese bourgeoisie had a role to play in the revolution, but class differences would not be forgotten.
1. Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Peking: Foreign Languages
Press, 1967–1971), 3:90. Quoted also in Donald J. Munro, The Concept of Man in
Contemporary China (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1977), 21.
2. Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” in Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Clas-
sical German Philosophy, Frederick Engels (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1976),
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: The People's Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China. Contributors: Sigrid Schmalzer - Author. Publisher: University of Chicago Press. Place of publication: Chicago. Publication year: 2008. Page number: 86.
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